Wallo Opals from Ethiopia


As a gemologist, I am infatuated by gemstones, and opals are among the most stunning of all. All the colors of the rainbow together in a single stone to perform a fascinating dance!

Ethiopian opals are a “new” gemstone, having been discovered and marketed only in the last 20 years. In 2011, I traveled for the first time to the Wallo provincial mines – opened for mining just 3 years before – to hand select Ethiopian opals.

Ethiopian opals are exquisite, their color can range from white to orange to dark red to chocolate and almost black. Black Ethiopian opals are really black, whereas in Australia a ‘black opal’ is in fact blue! The color of Ethiopian opals – called phenomena – magnificently flickers with the hues of fire. Another difference is that Ethiopian opals have very “electric” hues. There is much variety within the Ethopian opal family due to the wide range of their opaque base color: from milky white, to deep orange and red, to even what is called chocolate.

Rough opals are “baked” into their host sand in which they have been cultivated over millions of years. Their evanescent colors, brilliantly flashing, contrast with the powdering sand. Here is a magnificent slice of opal nestled in a vise of hardened sand and alongside are some examples of cut and polished opals.

Unlike Australian opals, which are formed in ancient sea beds, Ethiopian opals are the result of volcanic activity, with the stones forming in nodules within the volcanic ash. Volcanic opals are also known as hydrophane opals – from the Greek word for water loving – because of their ability to absorb water. When wet, the stones become transparent before returning to their opaque color, with a vivid color play that is not dissimilar to the magical Northern Lights.

Ethiopians consider their opals “alive”, and truly, they can react when exposed to extremes of heat and cold, and to water/dehydration. Cutters polish opals to make the play of color stand out even more. Whether left rough or polished, Ethiopian opals are an exciting new discovery for the jewelry industry.

The prices of Ethiopian opals have increased more than 100 times since 2009, especially in the last two years the price has gone crazy. Now, with more and more big names in the jewelry world incorporating it into their creations, given to more people the opportunity to discover the magic beauty of this gemstone, we will for sure assist to a higher and faster increase in its value.